Catalan separatists deal blow to Madrid

2017-12-22 21:07
(Javier Soriano, AFP)

(Javier Soriano, AFP)

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Barcelona - With their leaders in exile or jail, Catalan separatists scrambled on Friday to reap the benefits of defeating Spain's central government in a divisive regional election.

Madrid had called Thursday's vote after secessionists declared independence on October 27, amid Spain's worst political crisis since democracy was reinstated following dictator Franco's death in 1975.

The vote was widely seen as a moment of truth on the independence question, a hugely divisive issue for the wealthy northern region, that has rattled a Europe already shaken by Brexit.

Regional parliament

But with the secessionists maintaining their parliamentary majority, the move to call snap polls appeared to backfire against Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who had sacked the regional government and dissolved its parliament.

Still, in a clear indicator of the gulf over independence afflicting Catalan society, anti-secessionist centrist party Ciudadanos won the biggest individual result with 37 of the 135 seats in the regional parliament.

Unless the three pro-independence lists fail to clinch a deal to work together in the coming months, however, they will govern Catalonia with 70 seats - two less than their previous tally.

"This is a result which no one can dispute," deposed leader Carles Puigdemont said from self-imposed exile in Belgium.

"The Spanish state was defeated. Rajoy and his allies lost," he told reporters.

Puigdemont's Together for Catalonia list secured the best result of the three separatist groupings.

"The biggest loser of election night was the People's Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which obtained only three seats," said Antonio Barroso, a political risk analyst at Teneo Intelligence in London.

How the independence camp will rule remains a mystery, however - and should its leaders fail to put their house in order, Catalans may even have to return to the polls.

Behind bars

"It is unclear whether Puigdemont will be able to be re-appointed... as he will be arrested if he comes back to Spain," Barroso said.

"As a result, the investiture process will be far from straightforward and the risk of new elections in 2018 remains high," he added.

"The investiture of a new first minister is likely to be a protracted and noisy process," he said.

Puigdemont, who fled to Belgium and tried to rally international support for the separatist cause, faces charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of funds in Spain.

Other independence leaders, including Puigdemont's former deputy Oriol Junqueras, are behind bars pending trial.

In a news conference in Brussels on Friday, Puigdemont said he was ready to hold talks with Rajoy outside of Spain.

Read more on:    mariano rajoy  |  carles puigdemont  |  spain  |  elections

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